Sean O’Casey was a prolific writer of letters. His correspondence was both deep and wide. Many of his letters were ably tracked down and presented in four volumes by the US poet and academic David Krause. These books are now out of print but can still be found second-hand, and are an extraordinary work of scholarship. This story is not included in there, but is also one that deserves telling.
In 1955 Sean corresponded with an amateur actor called David Butcher. David was born in Dublin in 1920, and although his family returned to England in 1922 he retained a strong connection to the country. He wrote to Sean after reading Sean’s autobiography asking him about specific places in Dublin where Sean had a connection or interest.
His story came to us via his cousin’s son Hugh Levey.
Norman David Butcher (known as David) was the only child of English parents: Charles Edward Butcher and Ethel Butcher (née Levey). His father, Charles, worked for the Audit Department of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway Company, based mostly in Norfolk. In 1913 Charles was transferred to the Auditor General’s Departments in Dublin, where [Norman] David was born on 7th January 1920.
Clearly there was much unrest in Ireland during the whole of this period, culminating in the formation of the Irish Free State and civil war. As a Civil Servant of English extraction, Charles Butcher was relocated back to the UK for his and the family’s safety. As David later wrote, “With great sadness the Butcher family left Dublin on 20th July, 1922, my mother in tears all the way over to Holyhead.”
David retained a fond affection for Ireland all of his life, and for Dublin in particular. He often visited Ireland, to meet up with other relations (Todd family) and to enjoy the people, culture and history.
David Butcher trained as an Accountant and spent much of his working life with British manufacturing company Goring-Kerr, retiring as a Director in July 1987. He lived in the Windsor area and was a passionate amateur actor, performing for over 40 years with the Windsor Theatre Guild, where he also acted as Treasurer (& Chairman?). He inherited his love of the theatre from his Aunt May Levey who was also an amateur thespian.
His love of literature and his love of Dublin, appears to have come together in his interest in Sean O’Casey’s work. He had read the writer’s autobiographies, corresponded with him, and photographed locations which were significant in O’Casey’s Dublin life and inspiration. David attended a 1995 performance of Juno and the Paycock in Dublin and was introduced to most of the cast by Tom McKenna. David, himself, performed roles in the play at least 2 or 3 times, including an amateur performance he organised in the late 1950s to raise funds for the rebuilding of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.
David Butcher Visits Sean O’Casey’s Dublin
The following are pages from David Butcher’s album containing his letter from Sean O’Casey and his photographs and record of a trip to Dublin, in June 1956, to visit Sean’s old homes and to see the Abbey Theatre’s production of Juno and the Paycock. He tracked down the locations Sean described to him of where he had lived in Dublin. David also ventured out to explore more of the city and caused a sensation with his camera it seems.
David saw the Abbey Theatre production of Juno and the Paycock with Harry Brogan as the Captain and Eileen Crowe as Juno. The performance was staged at the Queen’s Theatre as the Abbey itself had been badly damaged by a fire (after a performance of The Plough and the Stars). He met with Tom McKenna, who played Johnny, and saw a show at the Gaiety Theatre with him before returning to England.
Seeing Juno at The Abbey and Meeting Tom McKenna
Windsor Theatre Guild Production of Juno and the Paycock
As part of the Windsor Theatre Guild David helped stage a production of Juno and the Paycock in 1957 to benefit the Abbey Theatre Rebuilding Fund. He played Jerry Devine in the production and you can see a photograph of him sharing his photos of his trip to Dublin with members of the company. Also in the album is a letter from one of the Directors of the Abbey, Ernest Blythe, thanking David and the Windsor Theatre Guild for the donation.
David must have enquired about any plans the Abbey had to mount a production of Juno and Mr Blythe responds that they may put the play on as part of a theatre festival with Tom McKenna moving from the role of Johnny to that of Jerry Devine. The same role David had just played.
It has been wonderful to receive the scans of this album and to learn the story from David’s family. Amateur theatre is a vital part of our cultural life and it is heartening to hear a story of how an interest and correspondence with Sean was part of the passion of someone as committed to theatre as David Butcher. Stories live in the telling. David’s passion for Juno and Dublin came together to make a new story and to help rebuild the Abbey Theatre.
The photographs he took in Dublin in 1956 are a fascinating bridge between the time Sean lived in the city and now. His viewing of Juno at the Queen’s Theatre, meeting Tom McKenna and then performing in the play himself picks out a brilliant thread in the web of theatre. As Hugh Levey relates David was active in the theatre for more than 40 years and played many parts. Included in the album are two photos of him in the role of Corin, the shepherd, from As You Like It.
Thank you to David Butcher’s family, in particular Hugh Levey, for allowing us to use David’s scrapbook in this post. We hope that Sean’s letter and David’s archive will find a suitable home where it can be made available to those interested in this story about the community of theatre and how Dublin and Windsor connect through one man’s passion for a play.